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Why Air Cargo Keeps Descending and How E-Commerce Could Provide a Lift

Global air freight demand dropped 1.1 percent in November compared to a year earlier–the 13th consecutive month of year-on-year declines in freight volume, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

However, November’s performance was the best in eight months, with the slowest year-on-year rate of contraction since March. November’s outcome in part reflects the growing importance of large e-commerce events such as Singles Day in Asia and Black Friday and Cyber Monday,  IATA said.

While international e-commerce continues to grow, overall air cargo demand continues to face headwinds from the effects of the trade war between the U.S. and China, the deterioration in world trade and a broad-based slowdown in global economic growth, IATA noted.

The November performance improved on the 3.5 percent decline posted in October, Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO, said.

“But it is a big disappointment considering that the fourth quarter is usually air cargo’s peak season,” de Juniac said. “Looking forward, signs of a thawing in U.S.-China trade tensions are good news. But trading conditions at present remain very challenging.”

Freight capacity rose 2.9 percent year-on-year in November. Capacity growth has now outstripped demand growth for 19 consecutive months, IATA noted.

Airlines in Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East suffered sharp declines in year-on-year growth in air freight volume in the month, while North American carriers experienced a more moderate decline. Europe and Africa were the only regions to record growth in air freight demand compared to November 2018.

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Asia-Pacific airlines saw demand for air freight contract 3.7 percent in the month year on year. This was the sharpest drop in freight demand of any region.

“The U.S.-China trade war has significantly affected the region, with demand on the large Asia-North America market down 6.5 percent year-on-year in October,” IATA said. “However, the thawing of U.S.-China trade relations and robust economic growth in key regional economies are positive developments.”

North American airlines saw demand slip 1.1 percent in November compared to a year earlier, as slower growth in the U.S. economy and trade tensions with China dampened demand.

European airlines posted a 2.6 percent increase in freight demand in the month from a year earlier. “Better-than-expected economic activity in the third quarter in some of the region’s large economies helped support demand,” IATA said.

Middle Eastern airlines’ freight volume fell 3 percent in November year on year–an improvement over the 5.7 percent decrease in October. While the regional airlines face operational and geopolitical challenges, seasonally adjusted freight volumes have continued a modest upward trend, IATA said. However, escalating geopolitical tensions threaten the regions’ carriers.

Airlines in Latin American experienced a 3.4 percent decrease in freight demand in the month compared to November 2018. IATA cited various social and economic headwinds in the region’s key economies as impacting the region’s air cargo performance.

African carriers posted the fastest growth of any region in November, with an increase in demand of 19.8 percent compared to the same period a year earlier. Strong trade and investment links with Asia contributed to the positive performance.